The Beginning of the End
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It smelled of death. Old blood, excrements, disinfectant. At least the remains of it.

The security guard was still standing there with a questioning expression framed in the small opening of his helmet. I had pushed him aside brusquely after he asked me what I was doing here. I did not answer, I just rushed straight to the bed, dropped on my worn-out knee pads and grasped the little hand that stuck out from under the sheets. Finally the man understood and left the room. I straightened up slightly and looked at the motionless something that was left of my brave lioness. The otherwise slightly curly hair, which now was sprayed around her head wet and lifeless, the closed eyes, which otherwise had known this intense, inquisitive, but also sad gaze. The skin was pale and faded, veins were clearly visible on her entire body, leaving reddish-blue lines everywhere. I brought her hand to my face in a movement that I was used to even after a decade, taking in her fading, sick scent, which was still that of Loewen, despite everything.

"Jo…ha?"
I ripped the balaklava off my head and threw it to the side, leaned down to her face and kissed her pale, dry lips. I felt that she was trying to move, maybe even tried to return the kiss, but she seemed to be too weak to do so. I carefully detached myself from her, staying only inches from her face, trying to suppress the emotions that were boiling inside of me. She moved her lips again, it was very difficult for her to make a sound.
"I thought… you were dead - they… they told me…"
"It was hard to find you." She knew me too well. She didn't say anything else, probably knew it was better not to ask any further.
"You are crying."
A few salty drops had in fact strayed onto her forehead from the kiss. It matched her feverish skin. Only now did I realize that I was trembling with tension; her small, pale hand almost crushed within mine.
"I can barely feel my body. I'm dying, aren't I?"
I knew she didn't need an answer. I kept silent, watching her eyes that couldn't focus on anything, while I still bent over her.

Silence covered us like a thick, deafening fog and I didn't know where to look at. At her sunken, worn-out face? On the sheets encrusted with dirt? In the bare, dark corners of the room that has been provisionally prepared to accommodate the injured and the dying? The onset of a long-lasting, distorted howl in the distance took the decision from me. The sirens of doom, which had been with me on my way for weeks, started again and I knew that there was not much time left. At least the little lioness no longer had to experience it.
Her lips moved again, but only the last word reached my ear: "… brooder."
What do you say in such a moment? Think about it, Frey, try hard, these are your last damn words, you've been fighting for this for months! Months of searching, hunting, wandering through dead land, until I finally found out her location, hardly wasting a thought on how she had survived for so long. But now it was coming to an end. For all of us. But I found her! My star, my silver thread, through all these years.

I noticed that she was getting uneasy, she probably needed water. I carefully moistened her lips with the rest of a glass standing next to the bed. "I won't leave for a second, I swear it to you." Nobody in the room needed to say that the seconds were counted anyway. The siren, which slowly dug itself into the brain of every last survivor as an impending background noise, was now joined by the rattling and thundering of the last war machines, in a fight against whatever was still left. None of it had any weight anymore.

"Johan… don't want… sick bed…"
I understood without any need for more words. Without paying any attention to the security guard from earlier, I picked up her body and sheets and carried her, who hardly weighed anything anymore, out of the room and into one of the living quarters. I could no longer take her outside, but at least there were pictures on the walls of the people who had lived here before. Colorful, though, dusty pillows and sheets were lying around, which I pushed together into a soft bed on the floor leaning against one of the walls. I sat down, her body still in my arms, gently stroking her face with my hand.
I don't know how long I sat there with her like that. At some point her weak breath dried up, but the sirens did not stop for a second. The noise continued to swell, a roar as if from a storm, interrupted by the machines that held on. But how much longer?
I buried her limp, cold body in the sheets and carefully covered her with a blanket before I got up.

It was time.
Time to end it.

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